Glo­be­trot­ting ‘cam­era­man’ has seen it all

Cuban-born pho­to­jour­nal­ist Zum­bado to speak at U of M

The Commercial Appeal - - Local News - By John Bei­fuss

Free­lance TV news pho­tog­ra­pher Tony Zum­bado ar­rived in Amer­ica as a child in 1960, when his par­ents f led Fidel Cas­tro’s Cuba.

“I came to this great coun­try be­cause of rev­o­lu­tion, and I’ve been cov­er­ing rev­o­lu­tions all my life now,” said Zum­bado, 57, a dare­devil Zelig­with-a- cam­era Tony who’s been shot at Zum­bado “count­less times,” al­most drowned, and been kicked and beaten dur­ing a decades-long ca­reer that has taken him from his home base in Mi­ami to Nicaragua, Afghanista­n, Libya, Chile, Haiti, the Michael Jack­son trial and — per­haps most shock­ing of all, he says — New Or­leans dur­ing Ka­t­rina.

“I have night­mares, still, about Ka­t­rina,” Zum­bado said.

Zum­bado, 57, speaks at 7 tonight in a free public talk at

the Univer­sity Cen­ter Theatre at the Univer­sity of Mem­phis. Pre­sented by the school’s Depart­ment of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and Depart­ment of Jour­nal­ism, the talk is ti­tled: “From Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina to the War in Gaza: Pho­to­jour­nal­ism in Dis­as­ter and Cri­sis­Rid­den En­vi­ron­ments.”

Zum­bado — who still calls him­self a “cam­era­man,” even if some of his em­ploy­ers pre­fer the term “videog­ra­pher” or “tele­vi­sion pho­to­jour­nal­ist” — says he will dis­cuss “how you cover a na­tional or in­ter­na­tional dis­as­ter. How do you han­dle it? How do you work the area? How do you sur­vive? How does it af­fect you?”

Most of­ten hired by NBC, Zum­bado has been at the cen­ter of many of the most news­wor­thy or mem­o­rable events of the past few decades.

He was in Haiti and Ja­pan af­ter those coun­tries’ earth­quakes; he was in the Mid­dle East for the “Arab Spring” demon­stra­tions and the death of Moam­mar Gad­hafi; he was in Chile for the res­cue of the 33 cop­per min­ers; he cov­ered the first Gulf War and much of Amer­ica’s sub­se­quent mil­i­tary in­volve­ment in the re­gion; he was in Cuba for Pope John Paul II’S visit; he was in Cen­tral Amer­ica for the re­bel­lions of the Rea­gan era; and he cov­ered the tri­als of O.J. Simp­son and Casey An­thony.

In an in­fa­mous in­ci­dent that was much dis­cussed in jour­nal­ism cir­cles and at “free­dom of the press” con­fer­ences, Zum­bado al­legedly was as­saulted by fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion agents dur­ing the con­tro­ver­sial 2000 raid in Mi­ami to re­trieve 6-yearold Elian Gon­za­lez from Florida-based rel­a­tives and re­turn the boy to his fa­ther in Cuba. Zum­bado was knocked to the ground and held at gun­point, he said, in a suc­cess­ful at­tempt to pre­vent the public from see­ing footage of the raid.

Zum­bado was in­vited to Mem­phis by Univer­sity of Mem­phis Col­lege of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and Fine Arts pro­fes­sor Al­li­son Gra­ham, who en­coun­tered the pho­tog­ra­pher, by co­in­ci­dence, at an ASPCA evac­u­a­tion cen­ter in White­haven, when he was in town shoot­ing an­i­mal res­cue ef­forts for a Mis­sis­sippi River f lood story.

The Mem­phis high wa­ters, of course, were noth­ing com­pared to the dev­as­ta­tion that hit New Or­leans in 2005.

Ar­riv­ing be­fore the hur­ri­cane in the cus­tom 47foot mo­tor coach that serves as his on-the -go base camp, Zum­bado and his crew were the first to re­port on the des­per­ate con­di­tions fac­ing the thou­sands of evac­uees at the New Or­leans con­ven­tion cen­ter. He also dis­cov­ered the grue­some scene at Me­mo­rial Med­i­cal Cen­ter, where 45 corpses were found.

“When you go to Haiti to cover an earth­quake, you pre­pare your­self, you start pic­tur­ing what it might be like, and you know you can’t ex­pect much help from the au­thor­i­ties,” he said. “You ex­pect the worst of the worst. But when you’re in Amer­ica, you don’t ex­pect that .”

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